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What to Do About the F-22

Secretary Gates made news last week taking Congress to task for pushing to add more F-22 fighter aircraft to the Pentagon's budget. Public opinion on who is right is covers the spectrum. The USA Today editorial page opines, "Let's see if we have this right: The nation is struggling with an unprecedented $1.7 trillion budget deficit and fighting two wars against low-tech guerillas who have no aircraft. But Congress wants to keep building more and more copies of a hyper-expensive fighter jet that was designed for Cold War aerial battles against a country -- the Soviet Union -- that no longer exists." Writing for the Atlanta Constitution, Kyle Wingfield counters, "[k]illing the F-22 program in the name of fiscal sanity would be another example of how this administration is penny-wise but trillion-dollar-foolish."

Mackenzie Eaglen at the Heritage Foundation took a hard look at issue in her analysis on the state of the military's tactical air fleet. In a recent research paper "The Growing Air Power Fighter Gap: Implications for U.S. National Security" she and coauthor Lajos F. Szaszdi concluded "[t]he immediate threat to America's air power does not originate from foreign nations, but from President Obama's fiscal year 2010 defense budget request that would halt funding for key replacement programs, such as the F-22."

After examining the administration's long term needs she concluded that:

[t]he proposed FY 2010 budget would end F-22 production, limiting the ability of the U.S. to achieve air superiority in the future. Russia's state-run military industrial base is focusing on producing advanced fifth-generation fighters with some nearly sixth-generation capabilities. If Russia exports these advanced fighters, it will multiply the potential threats and opportunities for U.S. fighters to engage in combat with enemy fifth-generation aircraft. Additionally, given the U.S. military's global commitments, the 187 F-22s will likely operate in the different theaters, all but ensuring that they will be outnumbered in any potential engagement. Congress should appropriate funds to buy at least the full initial order of 286 F-22s to ensure air superiority over the next two decades, beginning with a purchase of 20 F-22s in FY 2010.

Her findings directly contradict Gate's position. In another paper she writes, "Gates has insisted repeatedly that there is no 'military requirement' for more than 187 F-22s and that that level is sufficient to meet foreseeable threats. However, numerous air power studies, senior Air Force leaders, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and independent analysts have all documented a military requirement of at least 243 F-22As."

Elsewhere, Eaglen argues that the Congress should support an allied variant of the F-22.

Comments (8)

My thinking on the F-22 has "evolved" over time.

Some 15 years ago I was leading the charge of those favoring cancelling the F-22. This was an air-superiority fighter designed to win against the Soviet Sukhoi Flanker, and Flanker production had pretty much ended along with the Soviet Union.

But the Communist Red Chinese [they still claim to be Communists, it is said] took up where the Soviets left off, and today the CHICOMs operate more Flankers than the Russians, and production continues with no end in sight. Air supremacy is like command of the seas, with it everything is possible, and without it nothing is possible. American air forces have no shortage of air-to-ground, but only a finite supply of the sort of air-to-air the F-22 provides.

I am no big fan of the figher mafia, and Air Force culture needs a fundamental rethink away from the celebration of aces, now that it has been so many decades since there has been one. But the great lesson of 20th Century aerial combat is that it is good to have the best plane, and for the foreseeable future, that is the F-22.

Tom:

Hooray! F-22 funding defeated today, 7/21. Enough with the "welfare for engineers" programs like the F-22 and the B-2 bomber.
Spend the money on equipment and improvements for our Armed Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Dave:

Layman question here. What can the Raptor do that the Lightning II can't? It seems to be the more versatile plane
right?

Paul Jeffery:

Cancel the USAF F22?
For national security reasons Congress should allow Japan and others access to the F22 to forward base them until can the US can afford to do the same.
Paul

Esuavio:

Dave- The F-35 Lightning II is based on the F-22 and is a formidable Air to Air weapons platform, but the F-22 is better. The F-22 is designed for Air to Air combat, it has superior turn radius, rate of climb, thrust to weight ratio, BVR capability, better stealth (especially rear aspect), a higher ceiling (it can execute combat maneuvers at 60,000 Feet MSL), payload, ECM package and others I probably don't know about. The F-22 is better than the F-35 in every way when it comes to Air to Air combat.
We NEED the F-22. Not because right now we are fighting guerillas, but because in the future we may fight a much better equipped enemy. Planes don't take six months to design test and put into mass production anymore like they did in WW2, today it takes years and years to produce a decent combat aircraft. The F-22 Program started in the 80s, started testing in the 90s and production 2005... It takes twenty years to get a decent number of aircraft in the world we live in. We might not have any credible air to air threat at the moment(arguable), but we might in the next twenty to thirty years. We have to be ready.

Anonymously:

Instead of the current controversy, I would be much more concerned about the state of naval aviation. The F/A-18 E/F fighters are at a clear disadvantage when placed in potential combat with their potential adversaries. This dilemma should clearly be laid at the foot of former Vice-President Cheney when he canceled the proposed advanced versions of the Grumman F-14.

I would suggest that the F-35 program be scaled back and that advanced versions of the F-15 E be purchased in substantially higher quantities thereby getting more bang for the buck. The cost savings [lower per plane procurement costs] could be translated into the purchase of more F-22's. Additionally, the navy could purchase additional F-18 E/F's on an interim basis.

Advanced planning and construction of the advanced F-14's could be purchased at a substantial cost savings as opposed to the F-35's thereby equipping more fighter squadrons and allowing for the attack version of the F-14 to be a follow on aircraft to the F-18 E/F attack planes for well into the 2020's. To those who would say that the F-14 is a 1960's designed aircraft, I would counter that if it was obsolete, then the military would not be concerned with Iranian efforts to obtain parts to keep their 80 or so F-14's flying.

This procurement option would keep the high-low mix of tactical aircraft and allow for the United States military to achieve their mission by allowing air superiority and ground support capability at the same time with substantial cost savings to the American tax payer.

Anon:

I'm really sad to see the F-22 go as an Air Force nerd, but it's hard to justify this sort of weaponry in an age of unprecedented interdependence in the global financing arena.
Really, does anyone here believe we're going to war with anyone but terror factions and minuscule rogue states in the next 50 years? We'll never fire anything but a cold glance at China when they ask where the money is. Why would we attack our bankers and why would they attack their only hope for sustainable PPP and GDP growth(especially their abysmal per capita GDP)?
Still, there are far more pressing items on the budget chopping block that need to be killed than a jet. Health care anyone?

Thomas R:

Chances are if we are engaging an enemy that is in possession air power that could rival our own we probably have a lot more to worry about than just the superiority air force with as much money as we spend on the military.

I'm not suggesting that we halt development of superior aircraft but do we really need to have so many of them right now in an era of asymmetrical warfare? No. We have greater priorities. It would be NICE to have a lot of these aircraft but we don't NEED them right now.

Perhaps a better investment would be to set the diplomatic and economic ground work so that we need not get into conflicts that would require them in the first place.

 
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